My first inspiration for this piece came during Mental Health Awareness day. A day so long in the past I’ve forgotten exactly what it was for. See, forgetfulness is just one of the many things that plague my mind. I’ve also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, social anxiety, and just plan stupidity.
That last one didn’t come from a doctor.
But I thought I’d lend my voice to the many people who were probably also discussing their mental health issues as a way of showing solidarity and also to cash in on the things that make my life so annoying. About time my various neuroses started paying their way.
So I started writing this thing. Then this thing got really long and I crammed jokes in it. Then November happened and I had to do NaNoWriMo.
Did I mention I won NaNoWriMo? Well I did.
I also had a moment of sheer terror when I realised the last section of this comes across as a bit sexist. I’ve shared it with some female proof readers, and read it out as part of a stand-up set earlier in the month. I’ve got some assurance that it’s fine, but even so, take it all with as much salt as you can physically stomach.
Anyway, without further faff, here is my list of the top 10 scariest things in the world.
1) Small Talk From Strangers
Now, being chased by a man screaming about how he wants to make a necklace from your toes while he waves around a bread knife is scary. I don’t doubt it. But given the choice between that or having a stranger suddenly make small talk to me, I’d probably be discussing anesthetic options and asking the guy: why toes? Is it a sex thing? Is it the most gruesome thing you can think to make a necklace out of it? It’s a pretty insane thing to scream at someone, or even think about.
It’s an easy choice because small talk is fucking horrifying. I always white-out with panic if anyone ever talks to me when I’m not expecting it, especially if they’re a complete stranger.
Once the panic has gone and I’ve asked them to repeat themselves it’s almost never anything I can help with or contribute to in any meaningful way. It’s intrusive blandness. “The weather is happening, right?” “What did you think of that thing you didn’t do, watch, listen to, or care about?” “It’s almost *insert date*” “Can you move? You’re standing on my toes/child/sand castle.”
I don’t object to small talk when I see it coming. I can kinda see the appeal. It’s less about actually talking about the weather or the sports or the calendar or the damage I’m currently doing to your sand sculpting; it’s actually just reaffirming that I have bumped into someone I know and it’s up to them to fill the inevitable silence because I’m so fucking bad at it. It must be as excruciating for them as it is for me.
At least the guy with the bread knife is giving me something I can work with, even if all I can do is run away screaming.
While we’re on the subject of things that make me run away screaming…
No part of them is good for my sanity. I’m pretty sure I even spelled the word incorrectly back there.
In recent years, old people have discovered they can elbow their way to the front of any queue by standing alongside anyone who appears unwary. Unless you’re guarding your flanks like a goddamn fighter pilot, these sneaky octagenarian arseholes will steal your place in the queue and there’s nothing you can do about it. Who wants to yell at a granny in Aldi? Even if everyone in the world saw them steal your place, you’re the one who’s gonna come across like an arsehole.
Or, failing that, the old person in question might just stab you in the heart. According to the European Referendum old people hate the young so much that they’re always ready to end them with a violent stabbing at a moment’s notice. I don’t want to die from being stabbed by an old person, it’d make my funeral so embarrassing I might not even bother attending.
It’s not just old folks sneaking in at your sides, you’ve also got to watch the person in front of you. They might be completely oblivious to the line moving forward a little and forget to move with it, leaving a huge exploitable gap for some intrepid old person to slide into. And saints fucking preserve you if the person in front of you decides to leave the queue entirely. Are they leaving? Are they coming back? Should you move into their spot? But what if they come back and yell at you? But what if — ah shit, that old lady just maneuvered her way into the spot in front of you and it’s your own stupid fault for hesitating.
Don’t even get me started on the person behind you. Every second you aren’t moving forward is another second for them to huff and chuff about how long the queue is, even if you cannot physically get any further forward without climbing inside the arse of the person in front of you. And I can’t do that anymore, it’s the sort of behaviour that got me banned from Asda.
At this point if I ever find myself in a queue, the only way to avoid a total meltdown is to give my space up to everyone who moves in behind me, then set up roots and wait to die. It never fails. Although I still think I might be waiting at that cash machine from six months ago.
3) Children and Babies Below The Age Of Thirty-Nine
I don’t dislike children. I think they’re fine so long as they’re quiet, minding their own business, and in a totally different time zone to me. It’s the same courtesy I extend to them whenever I can.
Now, you might say ‘Matt, how can you say that, didn’t you used to be a kid?’ My response would be: prove it. If Donald Trump has taught me anything, it’s that you can just yell Fake News at anything you disagree with and then you get to be President.
Speaking of idiot children, whenever one of them cries or screams anywhere near me I get a feeling like someone is ramming a dentist’s drill against my spine. The sound can cut right through anything and set all my nerves to Defcon 62.
Logically I know it’s probably not the kid’s fault, they don’t know any better. I know it’s probably not the parents fault either, I can imagine that a parent of a screaming child isn’t enjoying it any more than I am. They’re likely exhausted, irritated, and really doing the best they humanly can. Sometimes babies and small children cry. It’s a fact of life.
I have sympathy for parents when this happens. Every eye in the room turns to you like you’re some kind of child-abusing monster. Some arseholes are probably tutting, as if their childfree existence makes them better at raising children. It must be like being thrust on stage at an open-mic night at the last minute when your warm-up act is a mime; a mime who specialises in insult comedy; insult comedy that is exclusively about the dead pets of everyone in the room; dead pets that they’ve dug up to use as props; and by ‘props’ I mean they’re fucking your dead pets in front of you and making you clap for it.
This is what makes my anxieties completely fly up into my eyeballs. My instincts are to try and help. But I don’t like being around children. I’m bad at it. And what am I going to do? Run over and help some stranger with their kid? How do you think I wound up stepping on that kid in the first place? I don’t have the energy for that kinda small talk. I told you this. Try to keep up.
So I’m stuck between wanting to help and knowing I can’t ever do that in a million years without coming off worse than I already am. All the while my spine is being put through that torture scene in Marathon Man.
It’s best to sit here on another time zone. Fortunately, I’m still stuck in a queue so I’m good until someone comes up to me with a screaming baby.
4) Bad Music
Most of today’s music sounds like someone droning the same three lines into an autotune machine while someone in the background discovers all the sound effect keys on a Casio keyboard. And yes I do realise that this makes me an old person. But I’ve been an old person since I was a kid. That’s why there are no pictures of it.
And I’m a Creative. I have many creative fingers in a bunch of creative pies. Just look at how many times I added the word ‘creative’ to that completely original pie metaphor. I even capitalised it in the first sentence, so you know I’m the best at creative words and sounds. This SUPREME KNOWLEDGE leads me to believe that art is subjective and no piece of music is ever going to appeal to everybody. Plus I think a pop song might be a bit more successful than my wordsmithery.
Just a bit.
But the thing is, written work doesn’t cram itself into your head without your permission until I start yelling it out loud on the bus, or reading at the open mic nights I do in Sanctuary Bar once per month that you should totally come and see.
You are free to not read this or anything else I’ve written. In fact, my agent assures me this is a freedom most people take advantage of. I can’t conceive of a situation when my bad writing is forced into your brain against your will.
Once I discover that situation though you’d better be a fan of bad jokes and goth chicks.
Compare that to music. A bad song can come out of someone else’s radio, a shop or pub you’re stuck in, the mobile phones of children who sit at the back of the bus in old stand-up routines. You can be stuck in a situation where you’re forced to listen to terrible music and since most of that shit seems to be made up of one or two repeated phrases and a repetitive music loop, it pushes its way into your brain like a worm. Burrowing in there deep in the spaces where your knowledge of English grammar should be, repeating that droning obnoxious mediocrity from now until you die in a queue somewhere.
It always puts me in a bad mood.
5) Losing An Idea
Like I alluded to earlier, I’m a writer. Typing this stuff is just one of the many ways my chosen profession has ruined my life. I also tend to be batting sentences and words and story ideas around my brain all day like a bingo machine full of disappointment.
So exactly like a bingo machine.
This process can completely overload my tiny human brain from time to time, but every now and then I come up with something good. Or at least something that sounds good inside the walls of my skull.
This is great! I think, fists raised in triumph. I spend most of my free time sat staring at a blank screen hoping to fill it with words one day, and this thing I just thought of it perfect for that!
But this is only great if I’m sat at my computer, or I have a pen and paper handy, or no one else is around because I hate people looking over my shoulder while I’m writing. That should be on this list too, actually.
So if I’m ever surrounded by people in a position where it’s impolite to use my phone, I’m kinda stuck. I need to get the idea out of my brain since I get so few good ones and I don’t want to forget this one. I don’t trust my memory. I can barely remember to go outside wearing shoes most days, so how can I be trusted to remember the greatest novel idea or story or sentence or high-fallutin’ thinkpiece about anxiety?
I wind up keeping it locked in my brain not thinking about anything else until I can get to a pen or find a place to text the idea to myself. This can lead to hours of me storing the idea in the front of my brain like a mind baby. Uncomfortable, obtrosuive, and like all babies it’s always a bit of a disappointment once I finally get it out there. And it always ends up shitting itself.
Tom Waits said songs are like leaves flapping around in the wind. If you want one you need to catch it and stick it in your leaf-book right away or it’ll fly off. Then where will you be? Leafless in a leafstorm. You dick.
6) Misquoting Tom Waits
Actually I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that. Not in those words at least. He said something similar once, I know that for sure because I read it in a book about him. I just can’t remember the exact quote. Google is no help because Tom Waits is a prolific thinker, wordsmith, and treasure of a human being. He said a lot of stuff about songwriting over the years.
I know it was ‘songwriting is like…’ something. It was a metaphor. I’m not sure it was leaves though. Dreams? Birds? Whatever it was, the moral was to write down your good ideas before you forget them and it was really insightful and inspiring, even though I can’t remember the specifics.
I had to add this little aside because I don’t want to get caught up misquoting someone, or misunderstanding what they meant and then wind up at the mercy of the Internet’s very own ‘Errr Actually’ brigade.
It’s also a good place to point out how I don’t trust my own memory. I find it hard to distinguish between things I remember, things I thought about, and story ideas I’ve had.
I’m so mistrustful of my own memory that I refuse to set any stories in Liverpool, the city I’ve lived and worked in for over a decade. Because I know I’ll get some superficial detail wrong and some chortling dickspank will be all too quick to correct me.
Although I am in the process of writing a crime novel set in London, another city I’ve worked and lived in for years. Except this time I’m intentionally getting the tube stops and cockney rhyming slang wrong just to irritate people.
Anything that jumps out at me or the prospect of anything jumping out of me gets my heart rate up to Olympian speed. Any sort of attraction where out of work actors try to scare you is a guaranteed anxiety attack for me. So I tend to steer clear of haunted houses and the Paranormal Activity movies.
But it goes even further than that. One time I thought I was in the house alone and I went in the fridge for reasons that are best left to myself and god. I was just zoning out, thinking of a really awesome story idea when my flatmate entered in complete silence and started talking to me.
It was like my stomch jet rocketed up into my eyeballs. It took me about ten minutes to wind my nerves back down to ‘tense.’ And not just because my flatmate has been dead for forty five years.
I hate jump scares. Especially since they’re so cheap. Anything jumping out at you is scary. Like say I put an animated gif into this page that makes a withered clown face jump out at you when you’re done reading this sentence.
Obviously I’m not going to do that. But you tensed up for just a little bit there, didn’t you? It’s not pleasant. And you’re probably a normal person who isn’t petrified of their own typing noises. Imagine how this sort of thing must be for someone of my cowardice?
8) Sudden Smells
I panic whenever there’s a bad smell. I’m always convinced that everyone around me thinks the smell is my fault, even when it isn’t even me half the time.
It’s never worse than in a public toilet, the place where bad smells are born. Sometimes those public toilet cubicles are the only sanctuary I can find where I can blow my nose and hide from the human beings. But 11/10 times I always seem to go in one cubicle just as some knobcheese has completely completely decommissioned the cubicle next door.
I go in and its a mad rush to finish my nose blowing or panic sobbing before someone else comes in and moans about the smell. You just know that he’s going to be the first of a long line of people coming in and out of the bathroom so I can never leave the cubicle, lest that horrible smell be pinned on me, the innocent guy who just wanted to get out of the noise and the crowds for five minutes.
This is why I live in the toilet now. Well, it’s not the only reason, but it’s the one that most perfectly fits this story.
Please send help.
9) Being Stared At
I’ll just be minding my own business, walking down the street, or waiting for a bus, or sitting in a pub, and I’ll catch someone looking at me. If I’m lucky they’ve got a blank expression on their faces, but I rarely get that kind of luck. Most of the time they’re either sneering with utter disgust and contempt or worse — smiling.
This knocks my mind into a complete tailspin: What are they looking at? Is there something on my face? Shit, what was I thinking about when they looked over? Can they read my mind? Is that what this is? Can everyone in the world read my mind? That’d make a good idea for a story. Shit! Did I just say all that out loud? Have I been saying all my thoughts out loud my entire life? Is that why people keep staring at me? Is that why this person is still staring at me? Why are they still staring at me!? I’d better just stop thinking altogether and tell another story about waiting for a bus.
One time I was waiting for a bus again. Because I’ve spent over five thirds of my life waiting for buses so far, I don’t do very much else in public if I can help it. It was just me and another woman, who was sat at the bench while I stood as far away from her as possible in case she decided to blame me for any smells.
Every few minutes I’d look up and she’d be staring right at me. No expression on her face. Just zoning out in my direction. She’d look away, one of the few times anyone has ever done that, and so would I. Then five minutes later I’d catch her doing it again.
Clearly there was a bad smell somewhere nearby.
I’m sure she meant no harm by it and was just idly staring in my direction. But in the moment I was panicking so hard my lungs kept seizing up until I forgot how to breathe. And we’ve already discussed how my memory works, I was half convinced I was a fish-person who needed to get some water into his gills before he drowned. This only made her stare at me more.
In fact, it was so bad I think if she’d have pulled out a breadknife and screamed about hacking off my toes for her new necklace I’d have breathed a sigh of relief. Just anything was better than that awkward silence.
10) Attractive Women
On this same theme, attractive women give me a profound terror as well. At least until I’ve gotten to know them anyway. This isn’t me being scared of women specifically, I’m scared of everyone in the world regardless of what gender they are.
It’s more that I’m aware of the crap women put up with and I always go over the top in trying to avoid that behaviour. Plus I know what it’s like to be stared at by strangers so I always take great pain not to do that to anyone else.
This also means that whenever I see an attractive woman I will immediately look in every direction but at her so I don’t accidentally find myself staring. I know I can probably look once and be fine, but what if I look at the wrong moment and she happens to catch my eye at the same time? She’ll think I’m a bus pervert because all of the smells are coming from me.
Also I dress like a creepy bus pervert.
So in order to spare myself that awkwardness, and to spare the women yet another doofus objectifying her in public, I will always get myself out of her way by the most immediate route. This has caused me to walk into traffic on more than one occasion.
One time I was walking home from work and noticed that up ahead was a woman I thought was stunning. Just by noticing that, I knew her skin was starting to crawl and she was probably reaching for some pepper spray, so I decided to get out of her way completely and take the long the long way instead.
I take multiple routes home from work to confuse my many enemies.
So I took one of those routes home and spared both her and me the embarrassment. Done. Or so I thought.
Five minutes later guess who comes out of a side street? That’s right, a howling serial killer with a bread knife and a foot fetish.
No, it was the exact same woman I’d already avoided. I was so scared my breath caught and I started to sweat, frozen right there in the middle of the street. I was panting like a dog, sweating through my clothes, and stood right there in front of her — which I don’t think improved matters any.
For some reason she didn’t seem terrified, either she was tough as nails or she had actually walked away five minutes ago. Both of those things may have been accurate now that I think about it.
After doing some deep breathing — which didn’t make me look any less creepy — I managed to get my rubbery legs moving again. I stopped in to pick up some milk and industrial strength trauma whiskey on the way home. I found myself in a queue with two old ladies on either side, jostling with their elbows like it was Ben-fucking Hur. Ahead of me was someone on their phone who kept dipping out of the queue every few minutes. My heart was building a house inside my throat and I was sweating puddles onto the floor.
Then who should get in the queue behind me? That’s right, a screaming baby and a frazzled, miserable looking parent.
This time, I kinda wished it was too.
No, it was the woman I’d been trying to avoid. She saw me and smiled, which obviously meant that she was reading my thoughts and trying to steal my story ideas, so I tossed my basket at her and ran screaming from the shop.
That’s why I’m not allowed in Tesco now.
This isn’t me saying ‘oh woe is me! I’m afraid of looking like a creep! Is my suffering not the saddest thing that’s ever happened to male/female relations since records began?’ No, I completely acknowledge that no matter how terrified I am in social situations, women have it way worse. Guys leering at them constantly, catcalling, dickheads every five feet, practically everybody on the Internet, and a whole system that seems designed to both infantilise and fetishise them instead of treating them like actual human beings.
I’m a straight white guy who’s sort of tall. Even on my worst day I get off pretty light in comparison. I admire women a huge amount because they put up with all this crap and they keep going or they bravely call it out, wheras I collapse into a piss-soaked anxiety puddle if I notice someone looking at me for a second too long.
I once went to meet some friends and acquantances at a pub. Yes, somehow I have friends if you can believe it. Anyway one of the women there was exactly my type in almost every way so I made a point of not talking to her all night even when she tried to talk to me. When we were the only two people left in the bar. And the bar was being robbed at gunpoint. And she was actually saying: “Matt stop whistling and staring at the ceiling! Call the police for god’s sake!”
Comic hyperbole aside, once I’ve met someone enough times — attractive woman or not — I do manage to open up and actually talk to them. It just takes a few thousand years.
Absolutely none of this is the women’s fault, by the way. I’m the dickhead in all of these stories. And to any women who are somehow reading this, if a man acts weird around you because he finds you attractive it is 100% his fault. But it’s also not up to me to tell you how to live your lives.
As an aside, I do okay in the dating world because of dating apps. I can’t talk to anyone unless I know they like me back and there’s a technology buffer between me and most of my awkwardness. It helps relax me and by the time we meet in person, you’d never know that I’m actually a gibbering moron.
This strategy has made me one of History’s most preferred lovers.
History is the name of my ex-girlfriend. I kinda want to get back together, but the only way to make her come around again is to forget her.
As the smartest joke in this entire ramble, that seems like a good place to bow out.
Unless you’re not laughing.
11) People Not Laughing At My Awesome Jokes
This is the worst one of all.
Basically, in order to cater to all of my many needs; you all need to stop talking to each other, stop standing in queues, stop breeding, stop going outside at all, stop moving, stop looking at things, and stop being in any way attractive to anyone in any capacity ever. The only things you can do is laugh at my jokes. But not at me. No, don’t laugh at me. Laugh with me at my jokes BUT DON’T LOOK AT ME BECAUSE THAT MEANS YOU’RE PROBABLY READING MY MIND!
None of that’ll happen though, what fun would live be if it did?
Thank you for reading. I won NaNoWriMo this year.
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